Trigger warning: this piece is a discussion about sexual violence
Berserk (1997) fascinated and horrified me. Something about the grotesque, medieval anime kept me intrigued, but there was also so much that broke my heart and stirred up scarring memories. Casca, the black female protagonist, is self-sufficient, hardcore, a natural born leader and master swordswoman. She is a powerful woman of color and her character is allowed to exist not only as this, but as a vulnerable woman in this unforgiving, and at times, vile universe. Sadly, it is now clear that vulnerability is her greatest strength andweakness. Over the entire course of the 1997 series and its subsequent reboots, Casca is constantly threatened with sexual violence and degradation. She has her position, as second in command in the Band of the Hawk, repeatedly challenged by half wits, before her final disabling. There is a thinly-veiled underlying thread of misogynoir running throughout Berserk. It shows us that a black woman might be the most formidable female mercenary, but she is still just a woman and her fate — her agency and sense of security — still dangles in the hands of insubordinate men.
It disappointed me to watch the first strong black woman in a globally successful anime be subject to vicious violation and mental disabling by Griffith, a man she trusted. It hurt even more to discover that from then on she would become a backdrop to, her lover, Gut’s storyline. We watch Casca drop her armour and witness the moment of respite she is given upon her reunitement with Guts. Many black women have been Casca at some point in time, constantly brandishing a blade against unjust attacks from the world — learning to love yourself despite being bombarded with rhetoric telling you otherwise. She thought she had found love and peace, when suddenly, the light of her life and her shot at happiness was ripped from her. Watching as a black woman, it reminded me that nothing good will ever last forever, or at least not long enough for me to savour.
At one point, I asked myself, “Is this soft torture porn?” Every time Casca faced sexual violence or the threat of rape, it did little to nothing to advance the storyline. For those of you who haven’t watched, I would definitely advise pausing at intervals. Between series adaptations, we are made to watch an already broken woman be broken down again and discarded, her story overshadowed by the men around her. The writers passed up an excellent opportunity to develop the dynamic woman of color”s character.
I found Griffith quite interesting. He is an apt depiction of the nice guy, though obviously at the extreme of the spectrum. Griffith is a ‘well-meaning’ saviour who afflicts Casca with the same abuse he rescued her from, and goes on to consistently hurt the people who loved him enough to sacrifice their dreams and lives for him. There is a lot to be said about men who prey on the weak and manipulate people emotionally. Griffith is a grade A sociopath who serially used and abused people for his own gain. These, however, are my own deductions after conducting my personal analysis. In truth, the anime and manga series romanticises his fatal ambition and raise him to god-like status for stopping at absolutely nothing to achieve his empty dreams.
I mean, world domination? I think I’ve heard that before.
Berserk (2016 and 2017) truly suffer for the tragic course a once interesting franchise is currently taking. The manga is redeeming but several motifs presented in the series are viciously triggering, worrisome to say the least. So much could be done with Guts’ sexual assault storyline — we could see how Guts’ came to soften, relax into his being and move past his abuse. Instead we get a clunky transition of a brut wielding a lump of iron to a man suddenly falling for a woman and finding camaraderie amongst people he spends most of the series trying to distance himself from.
Casca is a promising and empowering individual. We were definitely robbed of a potentially incredible story about a truly revolutionary character.
Author: Tara Nafisa
Editor: Madison Wade